Versatile Panzer Killers: A US M4A3 Sherman Firefight | Print |  E-mail
Written by Don MacVittie   
Wednesday, 18 October 2006

Introduction



Making the cut: This review's participating models.
Left to Right: Peter Pig, Command Decision (3), Battle Honors, BattleFront

The Sherman M4A3 (known as the Sherman Mark IV to allied nations) was the main battle tank of the U.S. Army (and through supply agreements, of the U.S. Marine Corps) through most of World War II. Oddly enough, even though the United States military adopted it as their primary medium tank, most U.S. allies did not use the M4A3 unmodified. Because of this, and the fact that the United States made a lot of field modifications to the entire Sherman line, there's quite a bit of confusion out there about what, exactly, constitutes an M4A3.

For our purposes, we decided to look only at the M4A3 as used by the United States military. This should have made the review straightforward, but even within the U.S. Army, there were three main versions of the M4A3�the 75mm, 76mm and 105mm�as well as many, many less-prominent variants. In the case of the 76mm, so much was different about the tank that it really deserved the "Sherman" name only because it used the same hull. Combine these variations with the in-the-field upgrades and modifications to manufacturing as both tests and practical experience suggested ways to improve the vehicle, and you have a mess.

We did our best to get our hands on M4A3/75mm miniatures only, and hoped that this would yield tanks that could be compared head-to-head. We discovered that the excess of options in the M4A3 cause quite a bit of confusion with artists, vendors and resellers.

We ordered two vendors' "M4A3 75mm tanks" from resellers, but one sent us an M4A1, while the other shipped what appears to be an M4A2E8, but we're not certain (checking the stock number against the vendor's catalog, it should be an M4A3).


Our Shermans moving out together

We set out to get 15mm Sherman IVs from Battlefront, Battle Honors, Command Decision, Peter Pig, Quick Reaction Force and Stronghold Miniatures. Quick Reaction Force is in the process of remodeling its M4A3, and we did not include the existing model because it will be out of date by the end of the year.

The Battlefront retailer we purchased from had the M4A3 on its stock list, but when we received our order, we had an M4A1. After inquiring, we discovered that Battlefront has likewise pulled the M4A3 from production for re-mastering. Thus, we have an M4A1 in this review as it is the closest model to the American M4A3 currently available.

Finally, though our order was processed at Stronghold about a month before we published this article, we waited as long as possible, sitting on the finished models from other vendors for nearly two weeks, but no M4A3 has been delivered yet. Thus, Stronghold will be an add-on that we will look at in a single-product review when it finally arrives.

So this review includes M4A3s from Battle Honors, Command Decision and Peter Pig, plus an M4A1 from Battlefront. After assembling, painting, measuring and evaluating, we're happy to say that we have chosen Peter Pig for our tabletop, but don't stop reading�each of these products has strengths and weaknesses that may make one a better choice for you and your mates.

This is also our first multi-product review to include pricing in pounds (from a source in the U.K.) along with our U.S. dollar pricing (from a source in the States). The economy of local purchasing may well drive you to a different vendor than we used.


Our Shermans coming out of the fog

Peter Pig M4A3 Sherman (US)



The Peter Pig Sherman is a fine model

The Peter Pig offering surprised us a bit in comparison with its Panzer IIIL that was included in our last armor review. This is possibly due to the excellent research that Peter Pig has performed on this particular tank. The company has been kind enough to share this reference with our readers; find it at Peter Pig Sherman Variant Document.

Even the few M4A3 75mm tanks we received have vastly different glacis plates and deck designs, so we set out to discover what is definitively the look of the M4A3. Our research shows that the Peter Pig offering is most likely a late model, and the others earlier versions the same tank: the M4A3 75(w). This vehicle was very similar to what Peter Pig presents, with two turret hatches and a flat, sloping glacis plate not interrupted by the driver and loader hatches.

The greatest strength of this vehicle is not its proportions, though�it's the back rack loaded with stowage that we found irresistible. While a minor thing to include directly in the tank pack, we felt it pushed this miniature to the front of the formation. Combined with all other strengths, it made the tank unique in comparison with others in the review.

The greatest weakness of this tank is likely a bonus for those who prefer strength of model to measurement accuracy. After measuring the barrel on this tank, we were uncertain if it was indeed a 75mm, since the barrel measures out to 1.0mm�the right size for the 105mm version of the M4A3. We got in touch with Peter Pig and a representative explained that the company purposely oversizes the barrels of its tanks so that wargamers don't have to worry about fragile gear. Frankly, even though it measures out too large, the oversized barrel on the Sherman does not look nearly as bad as the oversized barrel on the Panzer IIIL did. The Sherman is a larger, less sleek tank, and we think that's why it's less disturbing to have an oversized barrel on it. The turret machine gun is oversized too, but not so much so that it feels out of place.

The Peter Pig model is also the largest in terms of width and height of all the models we reviewed. Perhaps that is why the barrel being slightly oversized does not look so bad. While it definitely doesn't look too big next to 15mm figures, the difference between it and the other tanks is obvious enough that you might not wish to put them in the same unit, though not so obvious that they couldn't share a table. The exception to this is the other extreme: The Battle Honors tank appears to be a light tank next to the Peter Pig. We do not recommend that you mix the two in the same army.

The turret mounting on this tank is hands-down the best of the review. While the Battle Honors tank comes close, the added weight of the Peter Pig mounting gives it a solid win in this department. The other two models do not even compare to Battle Honors and Peter Pig. We've included a picture at the end of this article to show what we mean.

The Peter Pig model also includes a hole drilled in the back left of the turret for mounting either the machine-gun (for rider firing) or an antenna. We found this to be a nice touch, but if you plan on leaving it empty, it will look a bit out of place on the turret.

The Peter Pig Sherman comes with both open and closed commander hatches. Since a tank commander is not included in the package, we modeled the hatches closed for this review.

This model came as close to perfection as any that we reviewed. With the exceptions of the barrel and the machine-gun, this tank is excellently proportioned compared with the original, and it shows. The molds for the Peter Pig tank are very clean, with the only possible complaint being that the bolts on the drive sprockets are not visible. Seriously though, you will not notice this tidbit when this otherwise detailed tank is sitting on your gaming table.

Overall, the Peter Pig model is a solid offering, and while U.S. buyers will find it more expensive than most competitors, it is comparably priced with the competition in the U.K. You will definitely not be disappointed with this model. If you're a U.S. reader, the couple of extra dollars this tank costs might be well worth it if you're only buying a few to complement an infantry force.


Front of the Peter Pig Model. Note how the barrel size is not as obvious as on the Panzer III

Manufacturer: Peter Pig Miniatures
Model: 8-233, M4A3 Sherman (US)

U.K. Sourcing:
Direct from Peter Pig
URL: http://www.peterpig.co.uk
Price: � 5.50

U.S. Sourcing:
Brookhurst Hobbies
URL: http://www.brookhursthobbies.com
Price: $10.99

BattleFront/Flames of War M4A1 Sherman


The BattleFront Miniature is a fine model, but very tall

Since Battlefront is re-mastering its M4A3, we entered the M4A1 in our review. The M4A1 is similar enough to the M4A3 to make the comparison valid, though had we known that two vendors were in the process of re-mastering and thus were not available, we might have held off on a Sherman review�something we'll watch for in the future.

The confusion of data holds just as true with the M4A1 as it does with the M4A3. According to AFVDB (the American Fighting Vehicle Database, http://afvdb.50megs.com), all M4s were the same height�274cm�to the top of the tank commander's hatch. According to firsthand reports, when the replacements for lost M4A1s came to the desert, tank crews were thrilled to find out that its huge profile had been reduced by six inches. We suspect there's an article for a historical magazine hidden in that tidbit.

Battlefront has also done a significant amount of research into its new Sherman molds, and like Peter Pig has graciously shared a summary of that research with us at
BattleFront Sherman Article. Like Peter Pig, you can feel the impact of this research in the detail of the model.

The Battlefront tank is almost exactly the same dimensions as the Command Decision mini, making these two work very well together in a unit or army. While the Battle Honors and Peter Pig models would go OK in an army, putting them in close proximity will make it apparent that they're scaled differently.

Battlefront gets kudos for including the commander with the model, and for the cleanliness of the molds, both metal and resin. As a side note, while working on this review, a fourth person told me that they had problems with molds�particularly barrels�in boxed sets that did not occur in single blisters. That's something worth being aware of. The horror stories you hear about BF barrels are true, but we have yet to see one in a tank that comes from a blister.

As with the Panzer IIIJ/L review, the Battlefront tank holds the most extras, with tank commander, open and closed hatches, and dismounted crew member included in the pack. Also an echo of the PzIII review, Battlefront is the only vendor that ships without a hull machine gun. A piece of wire will do the trick, but if you're not so inclined, you'll have to smile and nod at the empty spot where the mounting is in the hull (perhaps it's out for repair?). And of course, the dreaded "cut this in half and just try to super-glue the pieces on to the turret" hatch cover is included. Note in our pictures that only half of it is included. The other half went somewhere, we're not quite certain where, while we were painting the model.

In general, we believe that resin is just as good as metal for miniatures, but we did find one complaint in the course of this review. When you drop a resin mini (if you're playing with them, it is eventually going to happen), and a small piece that was glued on pops off, it quite often takes some of the resin with it. While you can fit the bits of resin back together, that assumes you found the part that popped off (we did, and a little glue and paint made it look okay). Not a monster deal, as the breakage is generally tiny and easily fixed, but it's a good thing to know. Removing a super-glued commander from a tank may result in bits of resin coming with him.

This is overall a fine model, and you'll be happy with it on your table. We have put together previous M4A1s from Battlefront that we did not enjoy at all, but this one went together well and looks pretty darned good.


Front-on, the BF Sherman shows its height even more.

Manufacturer: Battlefront Miniatures
Model: US042, M4A1 Sherman

U.K. Sourcing:
Empire Games
URL: http://www.empiregamestore.co.uk/
Price: � 5.50

U.S. Sourcing:
Brookhurst Hobbies
URL: http://www.brookhursthobbies.com
Price: $9.00


Command Decision/Old Glory M4A3 Sherman


The Command Decision vehicle is okay, not perfect. Note the gobs around the sprocket.

As with the Panzer IIIJ/L review, Command Decision comes in with the lowest price, both in the U.K. and the U.S. The catch: You have to order three of them to get the bargain in the U.S. But in the U.K., single tanks are available through Skytrex for the same price as the competition.

The Command Decision M4A3's largest strength is, again, the combination of price and "good enough" quality. If price is your primary motivator you will not mind this tank too much, and inventive painting can minimize most defects.

The greatest weakness of this model is its treads. Full of more gunk than an M4A3 on the Eastern Dorsal during the rainy season, they look to be preconfigured with field dirt. We took advantage of the similarity and painted the random blobs that infest these tracks a light brown color and called it mud. Generally speaking, we don't like battlefield dirt, but when given big globs in the treads, you make mud.

The Command Decision tank was one of the few that came with two barrel types. While we had to look very close indeed to see the differences in the mantlets, one clearly has a machine gun and the other does not, and comparing the two you can see the differences in the barrel mounting.

The turret hatches come as separate pieces, and mounting them open they look okay, but mounting them closed is a chore that requires some fine detail work with your X-Acto knife and Dremel to make them fit correctly. We didn't model any of these tanks in this manner, and our test fittings show that Command Decision did not intend for them to be modeled this way.

Overall, Command Decision isn't a bad tank if you pick up the three pack. If you foresee needing only a single tank, then Command Decision is probably not the best choice.


The Command Decision Sherman's turret looks a little smashed down.

Manufacturer: Old Glory Miniatures
Model: CD220 M4A3 Sherman

U.K. Sourcing:
Command Decision U.K.
URL: http://www.oldgloryuk.com/disp_items.php?m=13&sh=2
Price: � 13.50 (three per pack)

Skytrex Ltd.
URL: http://www.skytrex.com
Price: � 5.50

U.S. Sourcing:
Grandiosity, Inc.
URL: http://www.warweb.com
Price: $21.00 (three per pack)

Quality Casting (Battle Honors) M4A3 Sherman 75mm Tank (early)


The Quality Casting Sherman is smaller than the others, but a nice piece of work.

Quality Casting was our choice for the Panzer IIIJ/L review, and some of the things that made us favor its vehicle apply to this review also. The company has definitely put some thought into the manufacture of its miniatures, and overall, we've been impressed with the line.

The best thing about the Quality Casting tank is overall completeness of the model. It comes equipped with easy-to-mount open and closed commander hatches, a command figure, and a hull machine gun that does not have flash connecting it to the body�unlike everyone else, a gun is supplied, and that gun is a separate piece.

The largest negative to this well-crafted model is size. It is so small�particularly the overall hull height�that the difference would be obvious if you deployed it with any other tank from this review. No matter how finely crafted this tank is, this negative makes it of limited usefulness in armies that include other brands of M4A3s.

But if you're willing to use all Quality Casting M4A3s, it's a fine model that is not so small that it looks odd next to 15mm infantry.

The barrel of the Quality Casting offering is solid-molded with the turret, meaning you do not have to worry about mounting it. The negative of this approach is that you cannot use the early and late versions of the mantlet plate, and there is no machine gun on the mantlet. This is the only model in our review that includes appliqu� armor�that is, extra armor plates that were meant to be applied in the field to protect ammunition bins. Command Decision also offers an M4A3 with appliqu� armor, but that is not the version we purchased for the review.

The rear of the Quality Casting offering is not that of an M4A3�the tell-tale grill work is absent. If minute accuracy is important to you, this should give you pause, but a normal table-top gamer, at table-top angle and distance, will likely never notice.

Overall, if you're a fan of Battle Honors, you could build the M4A3 squadrons in your unit out of these models and you would be happy. Because these tanks are less expensive than most of the competitors, but more than Command Decision, they make a decent middle ground.


The Quality Casting Sherman's turret is a little short also

Manufacturer: 19th Century Miniatures, LLC
Model: 6002, M4A3 Sherman 75mm Tank Early

U.K. Sourcing:
(We were unable to definitively find a UK supplier and our email query to OldGlory15s went unanswered. Let us know if you know of a vendor)

U.S. Sourcing:
Old Glory 15s
URL: http://oldglory15s.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=6_8_99_116&sort=3a
Price: $8.00

The Measurements


Our Shermans file through the mists
The Measurements:
We went to the Sherman page on AFVDB and pulled the measurements, then compared them here to the models included in this review. To keep things simple, we divided the dimensions of the actual tank by 100.

NameLengthWidthHeightNotes
Sherman M4A3 / 1005.9 cm2.6 cm2.7 cmActual measurements, rounded
Peter Pig6.0 cm2.8 cm2.7 cmPlus rear stowage (4mm).
Battle Honors5.6 cm2.5 cm2.6 cm 
Command Decision5.6 cm2.6 cm2.7 cm 
Sherman M4A1 / 1005.8 cm2.6 cm2.7 cmActual measurements, rounded
Battlefront5.7 cm2.5 cm2.9 cm 


Tools of the Trade

All models in this review were assembled and painted utilizing the following tools:


- Armory White Primer
We elected to use Armory on this set because the green tanks are dark, and a white base coat helps to keep it from being too dark. Overall it was not too harsh an experience, though we did end up with some chipping on the glacis plate of the one resin miniature that we cannot identify the source of.
- Valejo (Flames of War Branded) paints
o Quartermaster's Set
o American Set
Valejo brush paints are the first water-based paints that we have truly loved, though we admit that even their flesh is a little gummy.
- Future Floor Wax (Magic sauce) blended with paint for highlighting
- Brushes are primarily Reaper, with a few Citadel, and Adikolor for specific tasks
- Armory Clear Matte Sealer for dull-coating
- Trimming and file tools from Foundry
- Gale Force 9 Adhesive for glueing


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